Pac-10 Preview: Week 8
Arizona appears to have avoided a major crisis with its quarterback situation.
Not only does the return of Nick Foles appear imminent, but backup Matt Scott won Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week honors in his first start since the third game of last season.
That sure puts the Wildcats ahead of this week's opponent, UCLA, which lost quarterback Kevin Prince last weekend to season-ending knee surgery and has unproven sophomore Richard Brehaut in reserve.
As of Monday, Foles was considered questionable by coach Mike Stoops, and the quarterback was back at practice. Foles declared himself day-to-day, which was encouraging, but there isn't much need for the 15th-ranked Wildcats to rush him back into action as he rehabs from a dislocated right kneecap.
Scott stepped in last week and completed 18 of 22 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-14 win over Washington. He also rushed for 65 yards on seven carries.
"Matt's performance didn't really shock a lot of us," Stoops said.
"Matt had practiced well and prepared well. We see him every day; we know what kind of ability he has. Being able to translate it to the field, I thought he did a great job. He gives us a lot of options, and that's good."
One of those options is being able to run. The Wildcats dabbled with a bit of the quarterback run game against the Huskies, with Scott breaking off a 32-yard run as he kept on a read-option play.
Stoops figures to keep any quarterback decision close to the vest, which will force UCLA to prepare for everything it has seen on film from Arizona.
"We certainly don't want to tip our hand what we're doing offensively," Stoops said.
--QB Nick Foles said he feared the worst when he clutched at his knee after Washington State DL Travis Long rolled into his right leg in the Oct. 16 game. He could see that the kneecap was dislocated.
"It was pretty scary. I mean, I have never had a knee injury," Foles said.
"Just to look down at my leg and see the shape it was in, I thought the worst. I definitely thought it could be over for this year and I was very fortunate that it was a dislocated kneecap and it popped back in place with really not that much damage. I'm very fortunate and very thankful."
--Arizona had two players honored by the Pac-10 this week -- QB Matt Scott won Offensive Player of the Week honors, while LB Paul Vassallo won Defensive Player of the Week honors. Vassallo had 14 tackles, including a sack. "Paul has played that way all year. He has been a guy that goes sideline to sideline," coach Mike Stoops said.
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads Arizona 19-13-2 (last meeting, 2009, 27-13 Arizona).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Arizona is confident it can win with either Matt Scott or Nick Foles at quarterback and won't worry too much if Foles doesn't make it back this week from a dislocated kneecap. At worst, it appears he will be ready for the brutal final month that begins Nov. 6 at Stanford. The Wildcats established the run game better last week after coach Mike Stoops challenged it, and that could be a similar plan this week against a young UCLA defensive front seven that is missing injured MLB Patrick Larimore. The Bruins have had trouble stopping strong running teams this season and are allowing 194.86 yards per game on the ground, 102nd nationally.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wildcats have been surprisingly good, as its presumed weakness -- an all-new starting linebacker corps -- has been a strength. The secondary has been spotty, but that shouldn't be too much of an issue against a stagnant UCLA passing game and backup QB Richard Brehaut. Arizona has to watch out for RB Johnathan Franklin in the pistol, which provides power running plays. The Wildcats are seventh in the nation in rushing defense (90.86) and their overall speed should negate any option keeps from Brehaut.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Being able to scramble makes him a lot different. Just the thought he puts in the defense's mind. They're always thinking draw or that he's going to take off." -- Arizona WR Juron Criner on the difference QB Matt Scott brings to the offense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Arizona at UCLA, Oct. 30 -- The Wildcats are 6-1 for the first time since 1998 and are looking to continue the momentum from a 44-14 victory over Washington that marked their best overall performance since beating Iowa on Sept. 18. UCLA is reeling, but its victory last month at Texas (even if the Longhorns aren't up to their recent standards) has put Arizona on notice that the Bruins can have some occasional bite.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop the run. Arizona doesn't have the biggest defensive front around, but the Cats have been good at swarming to the ball and not getting pushed around. Arizona has allowed only two teams to rush for more than 100 yards -- The Citadel (which runs the triple-option) and Cal. If the Wildcats limit UCLA's running game, they will really be able to tee off on QB Richard Brehaut.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DE Ricky Elmore -- The senior has seven sacks, tied for 10th in the country at one per game. He and fellow senior end Brooks Reed will be going up against a UCLA offensive line that will be without suspended tackle Sean Sheller.
RB Keola Antolin -- He has been getting more of the carries in a time share with Nic Grigsby in recent week, and he broke loose for a 78-yard run last week against Washington. He's a short, powerful back who showed good speed on that play. He has 60 rushes for 332 yards and five touchdowns, and he also has 20 catches.
LB Paul Vassallo -- The junior college transfer has emerged as a leader of the Arizona defense, with a team-best 54 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks.
--OG Vaughn Dotsy, who underwent offseason back surgery and missed most of fall camp, is out indefinitely. Coach Mike Stoops said the junior might have to consider ending his career if the back doesn't respond to treatment. Dotsy is a junior who entered camp as a co-starter at right guard with Jovon Hayes. If the injury is not career-ending, Dotsy could take a medical redshirt if he doesn't make it back this season as he played in only the first two games.
--Backup slot receiver Richard Morrison suffered a shoulder injury against Washington State on Oct. 16 and is expected to miss at least one more game.
--Starting DT Justin Washington, a redshirt freshman who has four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, did not dress for the Washington game because of a knee injury. He is questionable for this week's game at UCLA.
Arizona State likes playing against teams that have "Washington" in their name.
The Sun Devils haven't won much recently, but coach Dennis Erickson is 4-0 against Washington while at Arizona State and is 3-0 against this week's opponent, Washington State.
He is 7-20 against the rest of the Pac-10.
Erickson is hoping the Sun Devils, coming off a disheartening 50-17 loss at Cal last week, can get back on track against the Cougars, who are 0-5 in the Pac-10 but are much more competitive than in the past few years.
"They are a football team that as you watch from the beginning of the season until now is unbelievable," Erickson said.
"You have to give credit to Paul Wulff and his coaching staff. They have done a great job. Offensively they have a lot of weapons. They spread people out and take advantage of the great receivers they have. Jeff Tuel is a good, young quarterback. They are scoring points against everybody."
Arizona State (3-4, 1-3 Pac-10) had done a great job of competing against everyone this season until laying an egg at Cal. Quarterback Steven Threet had to leave that game because of a concussion, but early in the week it looked as if he would be able to play Saturday.
The Sun Devils' bowl hopes are already on life support -- they have to get to seven overall victories because only one of their two wins over FCS schools counts toward bowl eligibility -- and this is a Pac-10 "gimme" they can't afford to squander.
"We can't make too many mistakes, but obviously that is our goal," Erickson said of a bowl game. "In the meantime, winning our fourth game is the goal that's in front of us."
--Arizona State will be playing its first home game Saturday since Sept. 25. The Sun Devils had three consecutive road games, separated by a bye week.
--Senior P Trevor Hankins is second in the nation in punting with an average of 47.93 yards per attempt. He is one of five Pac-10 punters in the national top 20.
--ASU announced last week the indefinite suspension of freshmen DT Lee Adams and OT Jamil Douglas, who were arrested on suspicion of second-degree burglary, stemming from an incident at a dormitory on Oct. 8.
SERIES HISTORY: Arizona State leads Washington State 22-12-2 (last meeting, 2009, 27-14 Arizona State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: ASU's new no-huddle spread offense puts a lot of pressure and quick decision-making on starting QB Steven Threet, a transfer from Michigan. Threet has looked in command at times but he also has forced the issue at other times and made bad throws. His 13 interceptions are the third-most in the country. Coach Dennis Erickson talked Monday about doing things to simplify the offense. "Not that we would change our offense," he said, "but let's look at maybe not putting the pressure on (Threet) every down ... maybe to where he doesn't have to make a decision every play."
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Sun Devils, somewhat surprisingly, haven't been as stout on this side of the ball as they were last season, when they led the conference in total defense. This is still a speedy unit, though, and one that will have to be wary of Washington State QB Jeff Tuel, a sophomore who has emerged as the biggest hope for the rebuilding Cougars. Tuel has thrown for at least 245 yards in each of his past four Pac-10 games. ASU has to tighten its pass defense after allowing too many big plays through the air to Cal, including receptions of 32, 52 and 42 yards in the second quarter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I look for them to respond very well. If this happens to us five other times, then we have some issues. I don't see that right now. Our guys will step up and they have a lot of pride." -- Coach Dennis Erickson, on how his team will respond after a 50-17 loss at Cal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington State at Arizona State, Oct. 30 -- The Sun Devils need a win to keep their flickering bowl hopes alive. The word from coaches around the Pac-10 is that Washington State has improved enough to beat somebody in the conference, but nobody wants to be that team. Certainly, a loss would turn up the heat on fourth-year ASU coach Dennis Erickson.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Get better quarterback play. Coach Dennis Erickson still believes in QB Steven Threet and isn't ready to make a change, although it's worth noting that backup Brock Osweiler will be available this week. He couldn't go last week when Threet suffered a concussion because of a back injury that had limited his practice time during the week. Threet has had 11 passes intercepted in Pac-10 play, against only six touchdowns.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR T.J. Simpson -- Arizona State has good depth at the wideout position, but Simpson was targeted much more than usual last week against Cal. Will it continue? Simpson had a career-high five receptions for 87 yards against the Bears, improving his season reception total to 11.
LB Vontaze Burfict -- He's a big play waiting to happen ... for some team. Sometimes, he helps ASU do something great with a big hit (he has a team-best 55 tackles), but his undisciplined play still gets him in trouble with major penalties.
RB Deantre Lewis -- The true freshman has game-breaking speed and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry. He has 62 carries for 421 yards and three touchdowns. This week he goes against a Washington State defense that is second to last nationally against the run, allowing 237.63 yards per game.
--QB Steven Threet, knocked out of last week's game with a concussion, was responding well to tests early in the week and seemed like to play Saturday against Washington State.
--LB Oliver Aaron, who returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Cal last week, left the game because of a concussion. He should be ready to go Saturday, coach Dennis Erickson said Monday.
--LB Shelly Lyons suffered a broken foot against Cal on Saturday and is out for the season. He had 22 tackles this season.
--Starting CB Deveron Carr could be out until November because of a shoulder injury suffered Oct. 2 at Oregon State.
--Senior OG Jon Hargis, who tore an ACL in the spring, has returned to practice and could be back for Saturday's game against Washington State.
No one has any idea how Cal will perform in its Oct. 30 game at Oregon State. The Golden Bears may be the most perplexing team in the country.
Based on the Bears' 50-17 victory over Arizona State on Oct. 23 and their 35-7 victory over UCLA on Oct. 9, it would seem Cal should be able to handle the Beavers, even on the Beavers' home field.
However, based on the way the Bears were dominated in two of their three road games -- 52-31 at Nevada and 48-14 at USC, both losses that were not nearly as close as the scores would suggest -- it would seem the Bears have no chance to win a game on the road -- anywhere.
A win would move the Bears within one game of being bowl eligible, which would be an accomplishment for this squad, which was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10. But a loss would drop the Bears to 4-4 and reduce the bowl possibilities considerably with only one remaining game -- at Washington State on Nov. 6 -- appearing to be a game Cal should win -- and even that game is no certainty with the way the Bears have played on the road this season.
The Bears are winless away from home this season, and their most recent road game against USC was their worst performance since Jeff Tedford became Cal's coach prior to the 2002 season.
Oregon State, meanwhile, is 2-0 at home and is within a missed two-point conversion in overtime against Washington of being undefeated in conference play. The Beavers' only other losses were against Boise State and Texas Christian, both of whom rank among the nation's top four.
Typically, Oregon State plays better as the season goes on, and the Bears have had a tendency to decline toward the end of the season.
But nothing about this Cal team is predictable. The same defense that got shredded by Nevada and yielded 42 first-half points to USC did not yield a touchdown to Arizona State.
Quarterback Kevin Riley, who was 3-for-12 with two interceptions in the first half against USC, was 19-for-28 with two touchdown passes and no interceptions against Arizona State.
Riley should have success against Oregon State, which has yielded a lot of passing yardage this season, but Riley's inconsistency and unpredictability are at the heart of the Bears' up-and-down play.
The Bears have shown they can win at home, having won all four home games by lopsided margins. But winning -- or even performing well -- on the road has been a completely different issue.
--Cal has lost five straight games away from home, dating back to last season and including the Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah. That streak started after a road victory against Stanford, which, oddly enough, was Cal's best game of the season and was their third straight road win.
--Oregon State and Cal have standout running backs with nearly identical numbers. Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers is averaging 103.5 yards a game, Cal's Shane Vereen is averaging 103.0 yards. Both have 10 rushing touchdowns, and Rodgers has 12 touchdowns overall (seventh in the nation through Oct. 23) and Vereen has 13 (fifth nationally). Rodgers has 15 receptions for the season, and Vereen has 16. Neither has lost a fumble.
--Oregon State will be without one of its best players because WR James Rodgers is out for the season after tearing his anterior-cruciate ligament in the Oct. 9 game against Arizona. Not only is he one of the conference's top receivers, but he may be the Pac-10's best return man.
--Cal's defense has yielded 20 points in four home games but has yielded 103 points in three road games.
--Last season's game against Oregon State was the one in which Cal TB Jahvid Best landed on his head and had to be taken off the field in a stretcher. He did not play another game at Cal.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads Oregon State 33-29 (last meeting, 2009, 31-14 Oregon State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal has run the ball well in most games, primarily because of the presence of TB Shane Vereen, who may be the most versatile back in a conference loaded with versatile backs. But Cal's passing game has been up and down. Some of that is because the offensive line has been inconsistent, and some of it has been because the receivers have dropped some balls. Most of it is because QB Kevin Riley has been good in some games and not so good in others. Riley is coming off his best game of the season, when he was 19-for-28 with no interceptions in the Oct. 23 game against Arizona State. But his most recent road game -- a 48-14 loss to USC on Oct. 16 -- was one of the worst performances of his career as he went 3-for-12 with two interceptions in the first half before padding his statistics in the second half when the game was out of reach. WRs Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen both were outstanding against Arizona State, and they may be able to make some big plays against Oregon State, which has yielded a lot of yards this season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Cal's defense has been inconsistent, but it is coming off a dominating performance against Arizona State on Oct. 23. But one week before that it yielded 42 first-half points against USC when it never came close to slowing the Trojans down. The return of S Sean Cattouse to the starting lineup seemed to help the Bears against Arizona State, and the Bears defense has been outstanding in the two games in which it used five defensive backs most of the game -- Arizona State and Arizona. Whether Cal can use that alignment against Oregon State and the running threat supplied by Jacquizz Rodgers is questionable. If Cal does not use five defensive backs, Cattouse may not start, because safeties Josh Hill and Chris Conte have performed well. The Bears have found a creative way to apply a pass rush, and OLB Mychal Kendricks has been a chief component of that.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you get momentum shifts at home, you feel it from the crowd and everything around you. When you get a momentum shift on the road, it's just within the team." -- Cal QB Kevin Riley, trying to explain the difference between playing at home and on the road.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal at Oregon State, Oct. 30 -- Oregon State always seems to play well against Cal. The Beavers have won three straight games against Cal and nine of the past 11. Oregon State is coming off a bye, and teams typically play better with an extra week to prepare. The Beavers lost their previous game in overtime to Washington when they went for two points and failed, instead of trying to tie the game and go to another overtime period. Cal (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10) is 0-3 on the road and has played well in only one of the three. Oregon State (3-3, 2-1) is 2-0 at home. Every game Oregon State plays seems to be close, while every game Cal plays seems to be a blowout, one way or the other. Only one Cal game -- a 10-9 loss to Arizona -- has been closer than 21 points.
KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Kevin Riley is to the key to every game for Cal, and he must play a productive, error-free game. The Beavers rank 110th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense, so it will be up to Riley to take advantage of that weakness. How the Bears start the game will be critical. When they have success offensively early in a game, Riley seems to find his rhythm and gain confidence. Cal must prevent Oregon State DT Stephen Paea from dominating things inside. He is the best defensive lineman in the conference, and he is capable of producing a game-changing play. Cal can't let that happen. Defensively, the Bears must stop TB Jacquizz Rodgers and force Oregon State QB Ryan Katz to beat them. Katz has a strong arm and has improved over the season, but the Bears must take their chances with him rather than Rodgers. The Bears did an outstanding job against Rodgers for most of the game last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB Shane Vereen -- He is averaging 103.0 yards rushing per game, and he should be able to pick up some yardage against an Oregon State defense that has yielded more than 100 rushing yards to an opposing player in four of its six games.
S Sean Cattouse -- Cattouse is a playmaker who finds ways to make game-changing plays. He made his first start of the season against Arizona State and is expected to replace Josh Hill as the Bears' starting free safety against Oregon State. If the Bears use five defensive backs, both Hill and Cattouse will start. The Beavers are not prone to turnovers, but if anyone of the Bears defenders can create a turnover, it's Cattouse.
WR Marvin Jones -- Jones made two outstanding catches in the Oct. 23 game against Arizona State, and QB Kevin Riley feels comfortable throwing the deep ball to Jones, who can make adjustments with the ball in the air. Jones could have a big day against a Beavers defense that ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense, ahead of only Washington State.
--WR Keenan Allen was named the Pac-10 special teams player of the week after returning one kickoff 39 yards to put Cal in position for its first score and returning another kickoff 61 yards. He actually took the latter in for an apparent touchdown, but an illegal block penalty robbed him of the final 36 yards.
--TB Shane Vereen has caught at least one pass in all 33 games in which he played as a collegian. That is the longest such streak among active running backs.
--P Bryan Anger is averaging 46.2 yards per punt through seven games, which is ahead of the Cal single-season record of 45.3 set by Scott Tabor in 1987.
Oregon faces the biggest threat to its hopes for a national championship when it faces USC on Oct. 30 in Los Angeles.
Ducks coach Chip Kelly struggled to find words to describe how big the game is. First, he told the Eugene Register Guard the game was a "behemoth," then later said it was "ginormous."
The Ducks certainly have enough speed and overall talent to win. In fact, they should win. However, there are a number of factors in this game that will make it a challenge for the Ducks.
--The game is on the road. Oregon is 3-0 in road games this season, but it has played much better at home. Although it beat Tennessee handily in Knoxville, Oregon did not play great in its other two road games. The Ducks needed some breaks to win 42-31 at Arizona State. And the Ducks did not get the blowout win they expected at Washington State, winning 43-23 but not looking like the nation's No. 1 team in the process. Playing at USC, which will have about 90,000 fans on hand and features a grass field to slow the Ducks just a bit, will be a different ballgame.
--USC has improved dramatically over the past few games. It played well in its Oct. 9 road game against Stanford, losing on a field goal on the final play of the game. In its most recent game, the Trojans completely dominated a decent Cal team, rolling to a 42-0 halftime lead and cruising to a 48-14 win. Cal's defense is pretty good, but it did not come close to slowing down QB Matt Barkley, who has been outstanding lately.
--USC is coming off a bye week, and having an extra week to prepare for the Ducks' spread option offense is a big deal. Oregon's offensive talent is considerable, but much of Oregon's offensive success stems from the fact that teams have difficulty preparing for that offensive style in just a few days. When Boise State had lots of time to prepare for Oregon in last year's season opener, it handled Oregon's offense rather easily. When Ohio State had several weeks to prepare before last season's Rose Bowl, the Ducks did not do much offensively.
--The Trojans are the only team in the Pac-10 that can match Oregon's talent. USC has had some mediocre performances, especially in its secondary, but the talent level is there, and in a single game, that is a major factor.
Oregon has had extra time to prepare as well, having been off since its Oct. 21 Thursday night win over UCLA. And the performance by Oregon QB Darron Thomas against the Bruins suggests he might be able to take advantage of USC's secondary.
The loss of Jeremiah Masoli, who transferred to Mississippi, was expected to be the one factor that could prevent Oregon from repeating as Pac-10 champion. However, in some ways, the Ducks are better off with Thomas than Masoli.
The game against USC will be the test, though. Masoli was outstanding against USC last season when the Ducks rolled to a 47-20 victory over the Trojans. If Thomas can do something similar on the Trojans' home field, he will have established himself.
--Despite being an overwhelming No. 1 choice of the three human polls, getting nearly 80 percent of the first-place votes in the Associated Press, USA Today and Harris polls, Oregon enters the Oct. 30 USC game No. 2 in the BCS standings. Beating USC should help the Ducks considerably in the BCS computers, but whether it will be enough to surpass Auburn is questionable.
--Oregon is 7-0 for the first time since 1933, when the Ducks won their first eight games.
--Oregon leads the nation in scoring offense at 55.1 points a game. That's nearly seven points a game more than the nation's No. 2 team. The Ducks' 386 points through seven games is a school record, and the Ducks could get shut out by USC and still own the school record for points through eight games.
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Oregon 31-17-2 (last meeting, 2009, 47-20 Oregon).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With its deft use of speed and its spread offense, Oregon may have the best offense in the country. The Ducks lead the nation by a wide margin in scoring at 55.1 points, and they are No. 1 nationally in total offense as well. Their strength is their running game, with LaMichael James averaging 161.8 yards a game, best in the country. His biggest asset, though, is his game-breaking potential. He is capable of scoring a touchdown every time he touches the ball. The one question about Oregon's offense is its passing, but QB Darron Thomas is coming off the best game of his career, going 22-for-31 with three touchdown passes against UCLA on Oct. 21. The Ducks' biggest asset offensively is that they can score from anywhere on the field and can put up a bunch of points in a hurry with their speed and big-play potential.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Ducks have shown some vulnerability against power running teams such as Stanford, especially early in games. That could be a factor against USC, which will try to use Allen Bradford's inside power. But the Ducks seem to outlast opponents by using their outstanding depth to good effect on defense. By the end of the game, Oregon's defense is usually dominant. The Ducks have given up a lot of passing yards, but that is partly because they get so far ahead that opponents have to pass to catch up. Oregon has an excellent pass rush, having recorded 19 sacks. Their defensive speed is demonstrated by the fact that the Ducks have 55 tackles for losses and lead the nation in takeaways with 25.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we're bringing pressure, we've got to get to him quick. And just get bodies on receivers, make him hold the ball a little longer. That'll be the best chance to win, if we can limit his options." -- Oregon LB Casey Matthews, to the Eugene Register-Guard, on what the Ducks must do to control USC QB Matt Barkley.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon at USC, Oct. 30 -- Oregon has won two of the last three meetings between the teams, but the Ducks have not won in Los Angeles since 2000, and that is their only road win against USC since 1971. The Ducks (7-0, 4-0 Pac-10) are No. 1 in the polls, No. 2 in the BCS and hoping to play in the national championship game. The Trojans (5-2, 2-2) are ineligible to play in the postseason, but they are coming off two impressive games -- a one-point road loss to Stanford and a 48-14 victory over Cal -- and they are coming off a bye.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Getting pressure on USC QB Matt Barkley is the most important thing for Oregon. If Barkley has time to survey the field, he can carve up the Ducks' secondary. However, Oregon has a good pass rush, and Barkley is not particularly mobile. Oregon DE Kenny Rowe may be the key player in the game. He is an excellent pass rusher, and if he can apply pressure from the outside, the Ducks could get some sacks and force some turnovers. Offensively, QB Darron Thomas must take advantage of USC's weak secondary with his passing.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB LaMichael James -- A big-play back with speed and elusiveness, James leads the nation in rushing, averaging 161.8 yards a game and 7.3 yards per carry. He is the perfect fit for the spread option offense, and he seems to get at least one long run every game.
QB Darron Thomas -- He is third in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency, behind only USC's Matt Barkley and Stanford's Andrew Luck, and he runs the spread option efficiently. He provides a running threat, but it is his passing that has given the Ducks a balanced offense.
DT Brandon Bair -- He has 13 tackles for losses, an impressive number for an interior lineman. He also has four sacks, and he will be a pivotal figure in Oregon's plans to apply pressure to USC QB Matt Barkley.
--QB Darron Thomas was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien Award, which goes to the nation's top quarterback. During the Oct. 21 game against UCLA, he showed no effects of the shoulder injury that sidelined him during the Oct. 9 game against Washington State.
--TB LaMichael James was ranked second in the Heisman Trophy race on both the Sports Illustrated website and HeismanPundit.com. A big game against USC would strengthen his position considerably.
--LB Clay Matthews is one of 15 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker.
Oregon State hopes to begin what has become its usual second-half surge with a home game against Cal on Saturday, and what's more unusual: the Beavers playing, or playing at home?
When the Beavers (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10) take the field, it will be their first home game in 28 days. It will also be only the third home game of the season for the Beavers, the fewest of any team in one of the six BCS conferences.
And with only six games overall, the Beavers match Troy, Florida International and Florida Atlantic as the teams that have thus far played the fewest games of any of the 120 teams in the FBS.
The downside of all that: no more byes or breaks in the final six weeks of the season. That's the price of a second bye in the first eight weeks of the season, but Oregon State hopes there's a benefit, too.
"We were able to look back and pull some things together, give guys a rest, and get healthy," coach Mike Riley said. "At the midway point, it felt OK.
"We know what we're heading into and we'll be in a rhythm of games for the next six weeks and hopefully we'll make the most of it."
The Beavers have certainly been a second-half team in recent seasons. If they beat Cal, they will have a 4-3 overall record for the sixth consecutive season, and the previous five all saw a late push take the Beavers to a bowl game.
There's immediate reason for optimism that the streak will continue. After the Bears, the Beavers play UCLA and Washington State, the conference's weakest two teams.
But maybe Oregon State better get to those six wins to be bowl eligible in the coming three weeks. The season ends with USC, Stanford and Oregon, the league's top three teams -- and there will be no break, nor bye, to recover from setbacks in that stretch.
--Third down continues to be pivotal for Oregon State. In three wins, the Beavers are converting 45 percent of their third downs into first downs, but have been successful only 36 percent of the time on third down in their three losses. The fourth quarter has been a particular problem, with Oregon State converting only 5 of 22 third downs into first downs in the final quarter of games.
--RB Jacquizz Rodgers continues to move past some notable names on the Pac-10's career rushing list. With 3,314 rushing yards in his career, the Oregon State junior now ranks 17th on the conference's all-time list, with Cal's Justin Forsett (3,320) and Russell White (3,367) just ahead and USC's O.J. Simpson (3,423) not out of reach in the next game.
--The 39 rushing yards for quarterback Ryan Katz may not seem significant, but this is the first time since 1997 -- when OSU ran an option offense -- that the Beavers have had a starting quarterback with positive rushing yardage. Katz has actually gained 131 yards running the football, but sacks on pass attempts have reduced his total to a net of 39.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads Oregon State 33-29 (last meeting, 2009, 31-14 Oregon State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Beavers showed they could function without James Rodgers, out for the season with a knee injury, though they did lack the big plays against Washington that he could so often provide, on a pass play or a fly sweep. The extra week of practice allowed all of the receivers to settle into their new role, so the passing game should offer a better threat to relieve the emphasis of defenses to stop the running of Jacquizz Rodgers.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The most disappointing aspect of Oregon State's defensive performance is that the Beavers can't link any of it to inexperience (except at middle linebacker) nor injuries. The unit has been healthy all season, and there are nine players with starting experience. So what's up? Some of it may be the caliber of opposition, with games against Boise State and TCU, but the Beavers have simply not shown strength in any area in allowing an average of 459.2 yards per game. Only once last season did Oregon State give up that many yards in a game. Have offenses improved that much in one season?
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think our guys are used to about everything, whether it's noise or tight games or very, very good opponents. I think we've seen it all. We would hope that would be good preparation for the second half of the season." -- Oregon State coach Mike Riley on the Beavers being 3-3 after playing a schedule that is ranked among the nation's most difficult.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal at Oregon State, Oct. 30 -- Both teams attempt to lift their victory total closer to the six wins required for bowl eligibility before the schedules get difficult at the end of the season. The Bears (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10) have both Stanford and Oregon left to play, while Oregon State (3-3, 2-1) has those two opponents plus USC. Granted, each also plays Washington State in November, but a win in this game would be a definite boost toward a postseason appearance.
KEYS TO THE GAME: How well does Oregon State's defense hold up against the Cal offense that at times has shown great diversity? While the Bears don't have a quarterback as mobile as some that have caused Oregon Stat particular problems, Cal's Kevin Riley is experienced and does have a strong running game to keep defenses off balance. The Beavers will have to limit the production of Cal running back Shane Vereen.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Ryan Katz -- After three interceptions against Washington, the sophomore passer found out there will be difficulties, which he may have forgotten after his breakout performance at Arizona. Katz now has half a season of starts behind him. He's been on the road in hostile situations. He had a week to review his performances without another game looming, so his emphasis could be on his play and not preparation for an opponent.
WR Markus Wheaton -- His start against Washington was hampered by a knee injury that nagged him in practice leading up to the game, but the sophomore receiver should be better prepared to take over James Rodgers' role in the Oregon State offense. Wheaton had only one rush against the Huskies, for one yard, and four receptions for 43 yards. If not match what Rodgers did, Wheaton will need to provide more for the offense than that kind of production.
DT Stephen Paea -- Oregon State's honors candidate in the front four has been credited with one tackle in the past two games. Against Washington, he wasn't even in the lineup on a crucial fourth down for the Huskies. While offenses are concentrating on blocking him, a year ago he was able to fight through that. If he steps up his performance, it will go a long way toward the Beavers defense improving its play.
--Starting TE Brady Camp remains out with his ailing back. The soreness continues to limit him in even doing some of the conditioning workouts. Starting offensive linemen Alex Linnenkohl (ankle) and Grant Johnson (neck) used the off week to continue their rehabs but are still not fully recovered from their injuries.
--The recent spate of injuries to quarterbacks offered Oregon State a reminder that backup Cody Vaz has only been in for one series all season. He'll continue to get up to one-third of the snaps with the No. 1 offense in practices in case something happens to starter Ryan Katz.
This week's home game against top-ranked Oregon is so big that it might as well serve as USC's bowl game.
The Trojans can't go anywhere for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, and the spotlight won't get any brighter this season for USC than Saturday night's home game on national television. The ESPN GameDay crew will be there to kick things off in the morning.
Now, the trick is to not get blown out.
Oregon -- which has the nation's highest-scoring offense at 55.14 points per game -- can certainly do that to anybody. And the Ducks' frenetic pace will be a challenge to a USC team short on depth.
"It's shocking to a defense," linebackers coach Joe Barry told the L.A. Daily News about Oregon's offensive pace.
"First and foremost, they have a helluva scheme. It causes people fits. They try to get three plays a minute. They want to run 100 plays at you. They don't care about time of possession.
"They force you into playing responsible football. They force you to be perfect."
USC has been far from perfect on defense, but the thing that gives the Trojans as good a shot against Oregon as anybody left in the regular season is that they have a big-play offense capable of winning a shootout.
USC is averaging 37.43 points per game, and quarterback Matt Barkley is putting up some of the best passing numbers in the country.
"The ball is more in Barkley's hands now than before," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
"He's talented. He's thrown the most touchdowns in this league, sixth in the country in pass efficiency, he's doing a really, really nice job. ... They're a handful again offensively."
--Sophomore QB Matt Barkley was selected as one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien Award, which is given to the nation's top quarterback. Barkley, who is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 167.30, has thrown 20 touchdown passes and has been intercepted only four times.
--USC is 7-11 in games against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. This will be the first time the Trojans play host to a top-ranked team since 1998. Oregon, although No. 2 in the BCS standings, is No. 1 in the human polls.
--The USC coaches used the bye week to go out all over the country and recruit, with an emphasis on linemen. "Unless they start letting us in seven-on-seven tournaments, we better find some linemen," coach Lane Kiffin told the L.A. Times.
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Oregon 37-17-2 (last meeting, 2009, 47-20 Oregon).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: USC coaches are marveling at the conditioning of the Oregon defenders, who seem to get stronger as the game goes on; only one team has scored against the Ducks in the fourth quarter this season, and that was UCLA last week against reserves. The Trojans will take their shot Saturday, and there hasn't been much wrong all season with the offense, which ranks 14th nationally in scoring (37.43) and seventh in yardage (494.0 per game). USC still has one of the finest collection of skill players anywhere, including sophomore QB Matt Barkley, the usual stable of running backs, speedy WR Ronald Johnson and ultra-talented freshman WR Robert Woods.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Hold on tight, here come the Ducks. USC still has ample talent on this side of the ball, but the defense's performance has been un-USC-like for most of the season, with the problems traced back to poor tackling and a lack of depth. Coach Lane Kiffin, who has eschewed tackling in practice to preserve the team's health, went ahead and did live tackling in preparation for Oregon. Will it help? RB LaMichael James is tough to catch, and QB Darron Thomas has proven he can beat teams with his legs and his arm. USC's combination of an average pass rush and an inexperienced secondary has led to problems defending the pass. The Trojans are only 87th nationally in total defense, allowing 402.4 yards per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we can tackle at all in the secondary, we're 7-0 right now." -- Coach Lane Kiffin, in the L.A. Daily News, on a season-long problem.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon at USC, Oct. 30 -- It's back to the good ol' days of only a few years ago, as the nation's focus will be on the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday night. The Trojans (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) crept back into the AP rankings this week at No. 24 and will be looking to make their biggest splash of the season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Hold Oregon to 40? The Ducks have scored at least 42 in each of their seven games this season, so the next team to stop Oregon will be the first. Typically, the advice would be to control the clock and keep the ball away from the Ducks, but that doesn't really work because Oregon plays with such incredible pace that it is last in the Pac-10 in time of possession and first in the nation in scoring. USC is going to have to answer with big plays and somehow win the turnover battle. Oh, yeah, the Ducks are first in the country in that category, too, with a plus-1.71 per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Matt Barkley -- He's going to have to put a lot of points on the board, and he'll have to be ultra-accurate against a speedy Oregon defense that thrives on takeaways. Barkley has thrown only four interceptions; the Ducks have intercepted 13 passes, tied for the fifth-best mark in the country.
WR Robert Woods -- The true freshman has been explosive in the past two games, with 19 catches for 340 yards and five touchdowns in the past two games. With Woods and senior WR Ronald Johnson, USC has a pair of receivers that will make it tough for Oregon to handle at the same time. Might he even play some defensive back this week?
LB Malcolm Smith -- He is battling back from a knee injury and USC needs him to stop the multiple weapons of the Oregon offense. He has 36 tackles, tied for third on the team.
--DE Wes Horton (back) has missed the past three games but was back at practice in preparation for the Oregon game, so he should be ready to play, barring a setback. Horton has 4.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks.
--RB Dillon Baxter (toe) is expected to practice later in the week and be available for the Oregon game.
--Backup C Abe Markowitz should be available for the first time after recovering from a broken foot suffered before the season opener.
Stanford must win its Oct. 30 game at Washington to keep alive its hopes for a Rose Bowl berth. The Cardinal can get to the Rose Bowl without winning the Pac-10 conference, but it would require some help from Oregon, Boise State, Michigan State, Texas Christian or Utah and the BCS rankings.
The Cardinal has already assured itself a bowl berth for the second straight season, but anything less than a prominent bowl would be a disappointment for the Cardinal at this point.
The Cardinal's immediate concerns are rebounding from a poor performance against Washington State and preparing for Washington quarterback Jake Locker.
How Stanford prepares for Locker will be particularly important. Stanford's pass defense has been mediocre after being impressive through the first four games. And it's unclear what Locker will be able to do against Stanford -- he is expected to play, but shoulder and thigh problems and particularly a rib injury that may force him to wear extra padding have limited what he can do. Locker may not be the running threat he usually is, which may affect how the Cardinal plans its defense.
However, Stanford may not want to do anything different defensively than it did last year, when it limited Locker to 183 yards passing and 11 yards rushing while intercepting two of his passes. The Cardinal won that game 34-14 one week after Washington had upset USC in Seattle.
This time, the Huskies are coming off a disappointing 44-14 loss to Arizona, which was without its starting quarterback. The success Arizona backup quarterback Matt Scott had against the Huskies (going 18-for-22) suggests Stanford's Andrew Luck should be able to move the ball through the air against the Huskies' defense. Luck was not sharp against Washington State, although his statistics were impressive enough.
Stanford's remaining schedule is favorable. After Washington, the Cardinal hosts Arizona on Nov. 6 and Oregon State on Nov. 27, and playing the best two remaining teams at home is a significant advantage. The Cardinal also faces Arizona State and Cal on the road, and both teams have been impressive at times.
The Cardinal is still hoping to at least share the Pac-10 title, and Oct. 30 will be key in that regard. Not only does Stanford need to win on the road against a Washington team that is dangerous -- it beat USC on the road -- but first-place Oregon faces what is probably its toughest conference game of the season -- a road game against USC.
If things break right for the Cardinal, it could be tied for first place by Nov. 1.
--Stanford can get to the Rose Bowl without winning the Pac-10 conference if Oregon plays in the national championship game and either Boise State, TCU or Utah is the Ducks' opponent. The Rose Bowl is required to take a team from a conference that does not get an automatic BCS game berth if the Pac-10 champion is in the national title game. But that requirement if off the board if that non-automatic qualifier plays in the national title game. Stanford could also get to the Rose Bowl if Michigan State faces Oregon in the national title game, because the Rose Bowl could then pair a non-automatic qualifier with Stanford. This is all dependent on the Cardinal finishing second in the Pac-10.
--Stanford enters the Washington game with a 6-1 record overall and 3-1 in the conference. It is the second straight year the Cardinal is 3-1 after four Pac-10 games. Last year, the Cardinal won its first three conference games, but then dropped their next two.
--Stanford has won three of its past four games on its opponent's home field dating back to last season, and it played pretty well in all four. It pummeled USC 55-21 in its final regular-season road game last season, and handled Notre Dame and UCLA easily on the road. Stanford's lone road loss was against Oregon, when the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-3 lead but then faded for a 52-31 loss.
--Washington and Stanford will be two of the six teams in the North Division of the Pac-12 next season, which means the two are guaranteed to play each other every season.
SERIES HISTORY: Washington leads Stanford 40-36-4 (last meeting, 2009, 34-14 Stanford).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Stanford's offense has been impressive all season and should score points against Washington, too. The Cardinal is averaging 42.6 points through seven games, and has scored more than 30 points in every game. The Cardinal has been balanced on offense. It has shown a power running game behind its efficient offensive line and the running of TB Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past four games. The strength of the offense, though, is the passing of QB Andrew Luck, who is accurate, mobile and always seems to make the right decision. WR Ryan Whalen seems to be back at full strength, which is significant, but it's unclear whether WR Chris Owusu will play.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Cardinal defense has been pushed around the past three games coming into the Washington game, which contrasts with its impressive showings over the first four games. The Cardinal pass defense has been the biggest concern. Washington State QB Jeff Tuel had success throwing the ball against Stanford, and Washington's Jake Locker is considerably better than Tuel. Uncertainty at the strong safety spot does not help, because Delano Howell has a wrist injury that makes his status uncertain. The Cardinal has 17 sacks this season, and its pass rush has been its best weapon against the pass. However, its pass rush has not been as strong in recent games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are no red flags. Nothing where you say, 'He can't do this or he can't do that' or 'I wish he could do this or that.'" -- Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, on QB Andrew Luck's readiness for the NFL.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Stanford at Washington, Oct. 30 -- Stanford (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) needs to win to keep alive hopes of a BCS bowl berth, and the Huskies (3-4, 2-2) need a win to improve their chances for any bowl berth. Washington had dominated this series for years, but Stanford has won four of the past five meetings, including the past two. This season, the Huskies have had a big road win over USC and an overtime home win against Oregon State, but they are coming off a lopsided 44-14 road loss to Arizona.
KEYS TO THE GAME: If Stanford's defense can prevent Jake Locker from having a big game, the Cardinal should win. Washington TB Chris Polk is a good runner, but the key is Locker. Stanford should be able to score points against the Huskies, and if the Cardinal can prevent Locker from getting into a rhythm, Washington will have trouble scoring enough points. The pressure applied by OLBs Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas may determine whether Locker has time to throw. If they can sack him or hit him a few times, it may make things difficult for Locker, who is already banged up with various injuries. Offensively, the Cardinal must merely avoid mistakes to have success against Washington, which yielded 356 yards in the first half against Arizona.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Andrew Luck -- Luck did not have a great game against Washington State, so he will be intent on bouncing back. He should have success against a Washington defense that ranks eighth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense and allowed Arizona backup QB Matt Scott to have a big game in the Wildcats' 44-14 victory on Oct. 23.
CBs Richard Sherman and Johnson Bademosi -- They have played better than they did last season, but had trouble controlling big-play receivers the past few games. Their task against Washington is to prevent Huskies WR Jermaine Kearse from having a big day. He has 41 receptions and 10 touchdown catches while averaging 16.3 yards a catch. If they can keep Kearse in front of them, they will have been successful.
WR Doug Baldwin -- Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu were supposed to be the Cardinal's big weapons on the outside, but Baldwin leads the team in receptions (28), receiving yards (402) and touchdown catches (six). He should be able to pad those numbers against Washington.
--WR Chris Owusu is questionable for the game against Washington with an undisclosed injury. He returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown against Washington last year.
--S Delano Howell is questionable for the Oct. 30 game with a wrist injury. He had two interceptions against Washington last season.
--TB Tyler Gaffney has missed Stanford past three games with an undisclosed injury, and his status for the Washington game is uncertain.
The Richard Brehaut audition begins at UCLA.
The sophomore gets to take over the Bruins' pistol offense after starter Kevin Prince underwent season-ending knee surgery last weekend. This will actually be the third start of the season for Brehaut but the first in which he knows he'll be the main man for a while, if he performs.
Against 15th-ranked Arizona this week, Brehaut can't play like he did last week in a 60-13 loss to Oregon. He fumbled twice and threw an interception after UCLA had marched to the Ducks 30-yard line on the opening possession.
"The thing that stands out in my mind is the turnovers," Brehaut told the Orange County Register. "I can't put the ball on the ground like that. I can't make that throw on that first drive. That's on me. I can't turn over the ball like that and expect to lead us to a win. I have to take better care of the football."
Prince was having a miserable year passing the ball as the Bruins adjusted to their new offense. Brehaut hasn't been much better. He is 35 of 61 for 348 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Oregon sacked Brehaut three times, and UCLA coaches said that he hung onto the ball too long, which is not uncommon for young, inexperienced quarterbacks.
Arizona will be wary, though, because it recruited Brehaut and offered him a scholarship.
"I thought he was a really gifted athlete and had a strong arm," Arizona co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish said. "He just hasn't had the experience that Prince has to this point. I think he's going to be a really good quarterback."
Darius Bell becomes the new second-stringer for UCLA, with walk-on Clayton Tunney next in line.
--UCLA announced the suspension of two players on Monday -- OT Sean Sheller and WR Ricky Marvray -- for what the school called a violation of team rules. This comes on the heels of the one-game suspensions already served by WR/KR Josh Smith and FB/TE Morrell Presley.
The L.A. Times, citing sources within the program, said all four players tested positive in drug screening. School policy is to suspend players for one game after a third positive test. The suspensions of Sheller and Marvray were delayed because they appealed the decision.
Micah Kia is expected to replace Sheller at left tackle. Smith should help fill Marvray's role at wideout.
--No. 15 Arizona will be the fifth ranked opponent for UCLA in the past seven games.
--Arizona has won the past three games in the series against UCLA.
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads Arizona 19-13-2 (last meeting, 2009, 27-13 Arizona).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: It isn't looking good for UCLA, which is down to its second-string quarterback and is still trying to make strides in the passing game. The Bruins are throwing for just 104.57 yards per game, which nationally is ahead of only three teams, all of which run the triple-option (Navy, Georgia Tech and Army). The pistol has been good for the running game, but Arizona has been tough against the run, allowing just 90.86 yards per game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: UCLA's young defensive front seven took another hit when starting MLB Patrick Larimore suffered a shoulder injury last week, putting him out for a few weeks. The Bruins have not stacked up well in Pac-10 play, allowing 35, 28, 35 and 60 points in four games. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the run defense has been particularly susceptible, and that could be a problem this week against an Arizona team that popped Washington pretty good last week after coach Mike Stoops challenged the offensive line to play better.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We certainly understand the problems and are working hard and diligently to fix them. The situation from the outside looking in, I know looks dire, but I believe that we've got a bunch of kids with great resolve. I know our coaching staff has great resolve and we're going to find a way out of this." -- UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose teams is 3-4 and has lost its past two games by a combined score of 95-20.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Arizona at UCLA, Oct. 30 -- At 3-4, the Bruins are clinging to bowl hopes. They can't let this two-game homestand -- against Arizona and Oregon State -- slip by without making a move. UCLA has been a hard team to figure, with that physically dominating victory at Texas serving as an anomaly, so the potential is there for an upset. The Bruins have their backs against the wall and perhaps not much left to lose, which are the ingredients for a dangerous underdog.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop turning the ball over. Beating Arizona is going to be hard enough straight up, but it will be nearly impossible if QB Richard Brehaut is careless with the ball against a speedy defensive unit that ranks second nationally in sacks. The Bruins' turnover margin for the season is minus-1 per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Johnathan Franklin -- The sophomore has emerged as one of the most productive backs in a Pac-10 that is filled with great runners. Franklin is 16th nationally with nearly 107 rushing yards per game, but he has been held in check in the past two games -- 54 yards vs. Cal and 69 yards vs. Oregon.
PK Kai Forbath -- If UCLA happens to keep it close against Arizona, it will have a big edge in this area. The All-American Forbath has great range and accuracy, he is three field goals away from tying the school record of 85 and he's closing in on the NCAA record of 87.
FS Rahim Moore -- He has only one interception this season, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous than last season, when he had 10. He has great skill and instincts, and he is probably going to face Arizona sophomore QB Matt Scott, in only his second start of the season in place of Nick Foles (knee).
--MLB Patrick Larimore is out for at least the next three games because of a dislocated left shoulder suffered against Oregon. He will be replaced by Steve Sloan and Jordan Zumwalt.
--Freshman CB Anthony Jefferson suffered a season-ending foot injury against Cal on Oct. 9.
--DE Datone Jones, the team's only returning starter on the defensive line, suffered a broken foot in fall camp and has not played. As of early last week, he was out of his walking boot but he won't be able to resume physical activities until mid-November.
--WR Nelson Rosario, the team's leader in receptions and a big-play threat, has missed the past two games because of a sprained ankle. Coach Rick Neuheisel was hoping Rosario could return to practice at some point this week.
--Backup DE Iuta Tepa suffered a torn pectoral muscle against Houston on Sept. 18 and is out for the season.
--Junior C Kai Maiava, a projected starter, suffered a fractured ankle in fall camp and said in late September he is unlikely to return this season.
The Washington Huskies' resiliency will be put to perhaps its most severe test of the season Saturday against Stanford.
After each of its first three losses, Washington rallied for a win -- coming back from a loss at BYU to beat Syracuse at home; rallying from a tough home loss against Nebraska to win at USC; and rebounding from a home loss against Arizona State to beat Oregon State at home the next week.
But this one may the toughest order yet as the Huskies get set to battle a physical Stanford team after losing 44-14 at Arizona.
Not only is the Cardinal (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) a difficult matchup for the Huskies (3-4, 2-2), boasting one of the most powerful running attacks while Washington struggles to defend the run, but Washington also goes into the game with some concerns over the health of star quarterback Jake Locker.
Locker is nursing both a thigh bruise and sore ribs, the latter of which forced Washington coach Steve Sarkisian to limit some of the plays he called against Arizona, specifically those that would call for Locker to run.
Locker said Monday he planned to play and hoped he would be healthier than he had been against Arizona.
So the issue doesn't seem to be whether Locker will play, but exactly how much he will be able to do.
Washington hasn't shown a great ability to win this season when it hasn't gotten great play out of Locker.
Against Arizona, the offense stalled midway through the second quarter as the Wildcats began to catch on that Locker wasn't a real threat to run.
And the defense couldn't stop the Wildcats, allowing 356 yards and 30 points in the first half.
"When you look at the ball game, you can't have five pass interference penalties, some critical ones on third down," Sarkisian said. "You can't have four sacks. You can't fall behind 30-14 in the first half and expect to win. We're a better football team than that. We'll play better than that."
They'd better or they could be in danger of being run out of Husky Stadium.
Stanford is one of the top rushing teams in the Pac-10 while the Huskies have struggled to stop good running teams.
"I think the big key to know about Stanford is they've got a system in place they believe in," Sarkisian said. "They're going to run power and they're going to run lead and they're going to run counter. They're going to run play action pass off of that with (quarterback Andrew) Luck throwing it down the field. And then they're going to spread you out and kind of dink and dunk the ball and do the things that they do there."
It's the continuation of a tough stretch for Washington, facing its fourth ranked opponent in five weeks with No. 1 Oregon on deck next week.
"We've been here before," Sarkisian said of having to rebound from a tough loss. "We've been knocked down before, and we'll get back up."
--Senior LB Mason Foster, who led the Pac-10 in tackles in 2008, continues to sit atop the league in that stat again in 2010 with 11.7 tackles per game, tied for third in the nation.
--UW is 20 of 22 in the red zone to rank eighth in the nation, so the Huskies can't necessarily say they have blown a lot of scoring chances. It's getting into the red zone that's been the issue.
SERIES HISTORY: Washington lead Stanford 40-36-4 (last meeting, 2009, 40-14 Stanford).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Huskies have gotten off to nice starts the last two weeks -- scoring 21 points in the first 20 minutes against Oregon State and 14 by the middle of the second quarter at Arizona. But in each game UW has then stagnated, shut out in the second half of each (though scoring twice in OT to beat the Beavers). UW hasn't been helped by health issues somewhat limiting Jake Locker's ability to run. He may run more this week if he is really back to better health. It could be wet, windy and rainy Saturday at Husky Stadium, and UW will have to be able to run the ball as depending solely on the pass may not be feasible. That won't be easy against a physical Stanford team, though the Cardinal has been vulnerable to the run at times. Figure Chris Polk to get 22-24 carries at least for UW to have a chance.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Washington continues to have struggles both against the run and the pass, ranking ninth in the Pac-10 against the run (202.7 per game) and sixth against the pass. Figure Stanford to try to run, run and then run some more until the Huskies stop it. That will put a premium on getting good play up front. UW may change some things around to get some bigger bodies in the front seven than it had a week ago at Arizona. UW's secondary will be tested by Stanford QB Andrew Luck and will have to prove it can cover man-to-man.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hopefully we can continue that trend. Let's win this week, and then we'll deal with that next Sunday." -- Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on the Huskies alternating wins and losses all season, and having lost last week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Stanford at Washington, Oct. 30 -- The Huskies will try to rebound once more to stay at .500 and keep post-season hopes alive.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Stanford has the second-best running attack in the Pac-10 after Oregon at 216 yards per game while Washington has shown little ability to stop good running teams, allowing 202.7 per game. That's not a good combination. The best way to take the pressure off the defense, as well as achy QB Jake Locker, is to run the ball on offense. Stanford has given up some yards at times on the ground and Washington is averaging a decent 4.6 yards per attempt. Washington needs to get the ball 20-22 times to Chris Polk to have a chance. As Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has pointed out, the Huskies have struggled to gain much on first down as well as stop opponents on first down. With both teams likely to try to establish the run, playing well on first down will be a real key. Sarkisian says his goal is for Washington to hold Stanford's first-down runs to less than 4 yards per carry.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jake Locker -- The senior has battled health issues the last three games, hampering his ability to run. But he may be in better shape this week and possibly more able to put all of his talent on display. UW will need it to beat Stanford.
TB Chris Polk -- He continues to be UW's most consistent offensive player, averaging 90.9 yards per game. UW may turn to him 22-24 times or so against Stanford to try to establish the run.
DT Alameda Ta'amu -- The 330-pound junior has been inconsistent all season but will need to provide a stout front to keep Stanford's punishing offensive line from dominating the game.
LB Mason Foster -- He continues to lead the Pac-10 in tackles at 11.7 per game. UW moved him back to strong-side linebacker last week due to injuries and his roles could continue to expand as UW looks for more ways to increase his ability to make plays.
--DE Cameron Elisara is likely out this week after a recurrence of stingers.
--LB Victor Aiyewa, who didn't start against Arizona, should be back this week. He is battling a knee contusion, and played off the bench against the Wildcats.
--OT Erik Kohler, a true freshman, appears to be recovered from mono and could be back in the starting lineup this week. He has not started the last three games after emerging as a starter for the Nebraska game.
After three straight weeks of coming closer than expected against highly ranked foes, the task for the Washington State Cougars is to actually get a win.
The Cougars play Saturday at Arizona State, a struggling team that has just one win against an FBS foe in more than a year.
And while Arizona State opened as 21-point favorites, it's a game that many Cougar fans are pointing to as one its team can win.
Washington State coach Paul Wulff has pointed to the results of the Oregon, Arizona and Stanford games -- all games the Cougars lost by 20 points or less -- as steps in the right direction, while acknowledging it's time to start seeing more.
"We're clearly not happy with the final results, but all we can do is keep moving forward and working hard and that's what our players are doing," Wulff said.
Washington State's closest game last season came against Arizona State, a 27-14 loss in Pullman, and the Sun Devils are coming off a devastating 50-17 loss at Cal last weekend. So the karma may be right for Washington State to finally get a win.
The Cougars hung tough with Stanford last week and scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to make the score respectable, again using the arm of Jeff Tuel, who threw four touchdown passes.
Arizona State has given up lots of big passing gains at times this season, especially in losses to Oregon, Oregon State and Cal, and could prove vulnerable again.
"They have a tremendous amount of athleticism on their team," Wulff said. "Defensively they are very, very good all the way across the board, on the defensive line and offensive line. They have excellent athleticism on offense and explosive play makers. I know they are going to be real fired up to play. They didn't play a good football game (at Cal) and so they are going to come out swinging."
The Cougars continue to rank near the bottom of the nation in every defensive statistic. But Washington State has shown a knack at times this year to create turnovers and that could be the key against the Sun Devils, who have lost 17 this season.
Washington State is 1-7, out of contention for a bowl, and simply playing for progress in Wulff's third year.
--Washington State has scored 102 points in Pac-10 play, averaging 20.4 points. It scored a total of 80 points (8.9 ppg) in conference play last season.
--Freshman WR Marquess Wilson caught six passes for 150 yards and one touchdown at Stanford, while Jared Karstetter added nine catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time two WSU receivers had 100 receiving yards or more in the same game since 2007. Wilson leads all Pac-10 players in receiving yardage with 796 yards (19.4 yards per reception) and 99.5 yards per game. Eight of his 41 receptions have gone for 40-plus yards.
SERIES HISTORY: Washington State leads Arizona State 22-12-2 (last meeting, 2009, 27-14 Arizona State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: WSU showed a little better running game last week at Stanford, rushing for 90 yards on 23 carries -- an average of 3.9 per attempt that is much better than the team's 2.6 average for the season. The Cougars will try to sustain that success this week to give Jeff Tuel a little more time to throw. Tuel has been a revelation this season in throwing for 200 yards or more in every game and ranking fourth in the Pac-10 at 254 yards per game. The Cougars will again try to get the passing game going against an ASU team that sometimes leaves its corners on an island. That could be favorable for tall Cougars WRs Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson to make some plays.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Cougars have shown some slight improvement in recent weeks in at least making teams use a lot of plays to go down the field -- and a few times forcing turnovers to prevent scores. That will really be a key this week as ASU is one of the more careless teams in the country with the ball, losing 17 turnovers in seven games, including 14 interceptions. WSU has shown some creative blitzes the last few weeks to get pressure on the QB and will try to do that again this week to force Arizona State's mistake-prone QB Steven Threet into even more picks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've made mistakes, and mistakes that cost us ball games. But we are playing hard and they are starting to trust each other, and that's why we have played at a higher clip the last few weeks." -- Washington State head coach Paul Wulff.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington State at Arizona State, Oct. 30 -- The Cougars will try to get their first Pac-10 win of the season against the Sun Devils. Former WSU coach Dennis Erickson is now the coach of the Devils.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Arizona State has lost 17 turnovers this season and has a minus-9 turnover margin, last in the Pac-10. Washington State needs to continue that trend. WSU has done a better job lately of making foes work steadily down the field rather than scoring on big plays -- another trend the Cougars will need to continue to have a chance. WSU has kept games closer than expected of late, while still losing. ASU, however, has a similarly fragile psyche to WSU's and could be the team to get rattled the longer the result stays in doubt. Arizona State's offensive line has struggled all season to keep its QBs upright allowing 19 sacks. Washington State needs to exploit that weakness.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jeff Tuel -- He continues to impress rival coaches with his poise in the pocket and increasing accuracy. He's averaging 254 yards per game, trailing only Matt Barkley, Nick Foles and Steven Threet in the Pac-10.
WR Jared Karstetter -- The junior has been one of the most consistent receivers in the conference and has the most catches of any player in the Pac-10 with 44.
DE Travis Long -- The sophomore ranks fifth in the Pac-10 in sacks with four and will be counted on to get pressure against a somewhat anemic Arizona State line.
S Deone Bucannon -- The true freshman is becoming one of WSU's most consistent defensive players and had 15 tackles, 11 solo, in his third start at safety at Stanford. He has 31 tackles over the last two games.
--Starting CB Daniel Simmons (concussion) is expected to play.
--Starting CB Nolan Washington (wrist, hand) may not be 100 percent but is also expected to play.
--S Chima Nwachukwu (hamstring) remains questionable. Deone Bucannon has stepped in and has 31 tackles the last two games.
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